History and culture walking tour guide Elizabeth Young arrived in NYC in the mid-1990s — and never left. She feels right at home in “visitor’s paradise” Hell’s Kitchen and has a very special reason to love Times Square. This is Elizabeth’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
Midtown West felt crowded, fast, and electric with all kinds of accents, food, people, industry and cabs to anywhere when I first stayed at the Marriott Marquis during a school trip in 1983. I was hooked on New York and set a goal to live here for at least one year. I finally began working in NYC in 1995 after I returned from Mexico — and haven’t left.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
I first earned money shoveling snow as a young girl in PA (denied my paper route dreams!). As soon as I could, I started babysitting and catering, and later entered the restaurant, education and publication worlds. Now I give history and culture walking tours here in Hell’s Kitchen and strategize/write for non-profits in the region.
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
When my husband and I renewed our vows in Times Square on Valentine’s Day. Our wedding day photog had lost some key photos, so we suited up and took new shots at Bar 54 before the vow renewal. The unanticipated celebration while walking through the area in a wedding dress remains a surreal memory. Look out, Elmo — and thank you, Times Square Alliance!
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
Location, location, location! We have river and skyline views, transportation access, theatre and music galore, an excellent variety of restaurant/bars and food stores, museums and parks, plus a tangibly strong neighborhood community. It’s a visitor’s paradise, but also home to extremely loyal residents with Hell’s Kitchen Pride.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
Teaching! I’ve taught English, restaurant management and culinary arts (including “Cooking in the Classroom” to highlight nutrition, science and ecology in continuing ed classes for librarians and teachers in the DOE). I also taught art, which I studied in high school and college and more recently as a member at the Art Students League. Nowadays, I focus on painting watercolors. So, I can make you a soufflé, paint your portrait, show you around 25 NYC neighborhoods as a tour guide, and also lead your strategic plan or grant application.
What else should we know about you?
Some Beacon High School 10th graders asked if they could help plant bulbs for their required community service hours, so I adapted a Care Captain training program (AKA volunteer tree stewards for NYC Parks). Besides planting bulbs to help the tree canopy expand, the students have cleaned tree beds and sowed collected seeds, led our most recent mulch event on Ninth Avenue, and one just wrote a song about our Hell’s Kitchen trees. You can catch them at the Litter Legion events, too! Most importantly, they helped me to perform replacement tree and new bed siting audits from 42-55th Streets and 8th Avenue to the Hudson River. You’ll be seeing some of those 300 trees being planted this spring, thanks to Council Member Bottcher, CB4 Liaison Jordan Feiner and the NYC Parks’ Forestry team.
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Elizabeth’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Hudson River Park, Pier 84, and Riverside Park South
Some of my favorite nearby waterfront areas remind me how close we are to the recreational and natural areas here. We can have a meal or drinks, walk, bike, kayak or fish, immerse in the wildlife and beautiful greenery, or take a boat ride on the Hudson.
Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project — 410 W40th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
It is an active farm and honey haven where I did my initial volunteering in Hell’s Kitchen. They have a crackerjack team of leaders, grow vegetables and herbs for the RMM food pantry, and enjoy some notable rooftop views of Midtown. It’s a community-inspiring and friendship-building machine, plus urban gardening ensures a free and efficient workout with caring neighbors.
Pascual Fresh Flowers — 681 9th Avenue (corner of W47th St)
Pascual and Lidia offer a good selection of lasting cut flowers and house plants, always transact with a sweet and gentle style, plus they uplift Ninth Avenue, including watering and caring for nearby trees and plants.
La Palapa at Gotham Market — 600 11th Avenue (bw W44/45th St)
They source superior tortillas, have a talented staff, and just added happy hour at the bar space facing 11th Avenue. The proprietor, Bárbara Sibley, grew up in Mexico and now runs this chainlet and Holiday Cocktail Lounge on E7th Street. She is a charming leader in the restaurant/bar industry, and I was thrilled when she added to our Mexican food offerings here (Hell’s Kitchen is a good bet when you’re hungry for margaritas and fun). Plus, the Gotham Market General Manager of Hospitality, Daniel Ferrigno, welcomes the Beacon HS kids there to sort seeds on rainy days.
El Mil Sabores Mexican Food — 695 9th Avenue (bw W47/48th St)
Ok, so I’m partial to Mexican cuisine and culture! This gem run by Eruvey Mendosa is frequented by the locals who know tacos to tamales. Besides serving three meals daily, they stock key staples and fresh-baked goods, and one of their chorizo meals accompanied by horchata can transform a day.
Midtown Deli and Grocery — 642 9th Avenue (corner of W45th St)
They are a busy and fun bodega with lots of smiles and goodies to choose (including Tastykake products, a rarity in this region, delivered fresh on Mondays). Usually, I visit them while caring for the Ninth Avenue trees and run into neighbor Richie Guzman (and his dog, Rocky), who sources water at the deli to grow the tree and plants on the 45th Street corner.
Piccinini Brothers — 633 9th Avenue (bw W44/45th St)
While I’m still devoted to Esposito’s when it comes to smoked ham and sausages, I can’t pass Piccinini’s without planning a meal. Thanks to the pandemic’s temporary effect on wholesale businesses, we now have permanent retail access to this artisan butchery with the coveted USDA Prime certification. If I have time, I grind their chuck meat for burgers, but the mouth waters while remembering their ready house brisket blend, which makes a tasty burger or meatloaf base. I used to be a vegetarian, but their double-cut, bone-in pork chops or a marinated flank give me reason to live meaty from time to time.
Marseille — 630 9th Avenue (corner of W44th St)
It’s a tablecloth brasserie with reliable, elegant food and a good oyster happy hour. They can transport diners to the Mediterranean and still get you to the theatre on time. The manager, Prince Ali, remembers what hospitality means: you’re home here.
Landmark Tavern — 626 11th Avenue (corner of W46th St)
The owners provide a representative dose of the Republic of Ireland, coming from Counties Cork and Tipperary. The food is hot and well-prepared, the drinks chilled and strong, and the company is cordial and merry. Plus, they’ve been around since 1868, about the time we got our Hell’s Kitchen moniker, so we can see what the stevedores saw, speak easy over bangers/mash, and belly up at the mahogany like a gastro-pub ruffian. If you want live trad music, show up on Monday nights.
MéMé — 607 10th Avenue (corner of W44th St)
It’s reliably packed with the fun and friendliest crowd. The owner is on-site, knows solid food, and the inside/outside operation allows atmospheres for every mood and weather.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
1) I’m running again to be an Alternate Judicial Delegate (I was seated as a Delegate last August by Male District Leader Paul Devlin). See you at the polls; voting runs June 17-27 this year.
2) Venues I want to check out: Lovely’s, Steak Frites (same owners!), the Baryshnikov Arts Center and Seeds to Change on W54th Street.
You can follow Elizabeth on Instagram @lizyounglatham and Twitter @culinaryandcity. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself) please fill in this form — w42st.info/WSSnominations
You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App